Alison Pearson is a housekeeping assistant at St John's Hospice in Lancaster. Here she tells us about the challenges of working during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as dancing for Peter Kay.

St John’s is quite a large hospice, divided into lots of areas. On the housekeeping rota you’re usually either in charge of offices and meeting rooms, or are on the ward, which is very different as you're working in a clinical environment. There you have to clean all the cubicles and the patients' rooms, as well as take care of all the clinical waste. It's a demanding job but I enjoy it.

If you're in the laundry section you're in charge of all the patients’ laundry and all our uniforms. Here you tend to work on your own, which is quite nice if you need a break from talking to people.

Covid-19 has really changed my role. There are strict social distancing rules, we have to wear masks, and we have to be particularly careful cleaning all the facilities that the public use. There used to be a very large cafe with a lot of people coming in to eat but that closed down.  We don't clean that area anymore and even though the pressure is off in that respect it's a shame for the hospice because it's wiped out a lot of income.

Adapting to change

I haven’t had any particular anxieties about the virus – actually I think this is the safest place to work. If you think about it, with social distancing, PPE and handwashing all the time, it’s like being in a bubble somehow, so I feel very safe.

The most challenging aspect is that a lot of people have been furloughed, so we’re short-staffed. We've lost all our volunteers because they’re over a certain age and are isolating, so that’s a lot of people who used to come in and help – it’s stuff that you take for granted. Because of this we started doing the rotas differently so we can drop areas that aren't as important to clean, and focus more on the ones that are.

I really don't like having to wear a mask all day because none of the patients can see me smile. You're just a set of eyes to them, and it's scary for them being in a hospice anyway. I'm a very tactile person - Northerners are tactile! Now I'm not allowed to touch anybody, just clean what I have to and get out.

The worst part is when a relative watches their loved one pass away. In the past, you would put your arms around them and give them a hug because you get to know them. Now you just give them a virtual hug and you're on your way. That is really heartbreaking.

Staying positive

A really nice thing is that the catering team have been making free hot dinners everyday to show their gratitude for everyone working so hard. That takes the stress out of making yourself a packed lunch. You write down what you fancy on that day and they make it for you; that cheers everybody up.  A lot of the girls bake cakes and bring them in, so I think everyone's waistline is growing.

In April Peter Kay asked NHS workers to film themselves outside their hospitals and hospices dancing to Is This The Way to Amarillo. He was then going to pick the best video and show it on TV.  It was great for  team-building because we all had to put a daft curly multi-coloured wig on, and go outside to film with just a couple of minutes to rehearse. I've never had such a laugh in all my life!  We put it on our Facebook page and got thousands of likes, which lifted everybody's spirits.

Once this pandemic is over, I'm most looking forward to everybody coming back, including all the volunteers, and for fundraising to start again, because the hospice hasn’t been doing any of its events like the Moonlight Walks for example. I’m also really looking forward to going away in my camper van, and going out for a glass of wine!

Useful resources

  • Our Frontline is a partnership between Shout, Samaritans, Mind, Hospice UK and The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It offers round-the-clock one-to-one support, by call or text from trained volunteers, plus resources, tips and ideas to look after your mental health. Visit the Our Frontline site
  • Hospice UK’s Just ‘B’ Counselling & Trauma helpline.  The service is a free confidential national helpline available 7 days a week from 8am to 8pm, providing bereavement, trauma and emotional support for all NHS, care sector staff and emergency service workers. Call the ‘Just B’ Counselling & Trauma helpline on 0300 030 4434.